ATLANTIC CITY — When Uptown Complex special-education/math teacher Brian Corcoran arrived at the school almost five years ago, he found students who didn’t like math, and didn’t believe they could do it.
But when he conducted a survey of student interests, he discovered they loved football. So he started working football into his math problems.
“The first thing I do is tell the students to watch a football game and tell me all the math they see — from the players’ numbers to the scoring and the plays,” he said. He started writing related math problems on index cards for students to do in class.
The equations spread through the sixth grade and have become a full-blown Math Bowl that is held in the auditorium, with teams from all three sixth-grade classes participating. The rest of the students also completed some problems, too.
Corcoran hosted the event Wednesday morning, presiding over a tabletop football field on which teams gained yards by correctly answering math questions.
“Which two of the team jerseys are prime numbers: 21, 5, 81, 23, 18, 39?” (Correct answer: 5 and 23)
“The following jersey numbers form a pattern. What number would be next in the pattern 3, 7, 15, 31? (Correct answer: 63)
The teams know their math, and the score was close, so Corcoran threw in some “gamebreakers” to shake things up. One member from each team approached the table, and the first to answer the question correctly gained 40 yards.
“What is the lowest common multiple of 10 and 12?”
There were a few moments of silence, then Victor Perkins, 12, responded with the correct answer, 60, gaining the yardage for his team, the Saints.
But the Saints fumbled the next question, a video animation in which a student goes into “C-Mart” to buy a team jersey. Jerseys are on sale for 35 percent off the $125 price. Teams have a bag of play money on their tables and must hand Corcoran the correct amount they would pay for the jersey. Two teams give him $81.25, but the Saints hand over $43.75.
“We forgot to subtract,” team member Tatiana Penarrieta, 12, explained after the event.
Corcoran said that is a common mistake — students calculate a percentage, then forget to subtract it from the total, so it is something he will reinforce back in class. He has the entire sixth-grade audience complete some problems, and the teams earn extra yardage if the rest of their class got them right.
Corcoran bases his questions on the state sixth-grade math standards, so the Math Bowl is also practice for the state math test in May.
“I tell the students the ASK (test) is their Super Bowl,” he said.
The problems got more complex as the hour-long game progressed. The final question was worth 40 yards, and it required students to calculate the volume and surface area of a large box in which Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers packs his football supplies. Corcoran was thrilled when all three teams got the answer correct.
“That’s a first for Math Bowl,” he told the teams. “Nice job.”
The Saints came out on top, having missed just the one question on percentages. Teacher Patrice Rallis’ team of Jaleel Whitted, 11, Diamond Douglas, 12, Penarrieta,12, Kwameese Loper, 11, Destiny Woods, 11, and Victor Perkins, 12, proudly displayed their winning Math Bowl belt.
The Math Bowl was filmed by the New Jersey Education Association’s Classroom Close-up program and is scheduled to run in the fall on NJTV.
After the event, students said they thought the problems asked were pretty easy. Corcoran said his training with special-education students has taught him to look for different ways to engage them, and he is pleased the teams weren’t intimidated. He has also developed “celebrity bowl” questions for students not so enamored with sports.
Math-test scores at the school did improve in 2011 as part of a district-wide effort. Corcoran said the confidence and interest students have developed has made it easier to teach.
“Before, some students wouldn’t even try to do the problems,” he said. “Tests scores won’t improve until the students want to succeed, and what I see now is that they want to do a good job.”
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